An episode of the animated comedy series South Park was censored on Netflix in India — and only in India. A crude drawing of male genitalia and breasts was blurred out from a scene in “Go Fund Yourself”, the first episode of the show’s eighteenth season, and not anywhere else in the world where the episode is available (h/t Siladitya Ray). Netflix removed the censorship after MediaNama asked the company about it — the company told us that it had uploaded an incorrect version by mistake to the Indian catalogue, and that it has since uploaded the uncensored version.
Interestingly, the censorship was absent for users in India with a different user interface language other than English — when we tried a French interface, the blurring was gone. It’s unclear if other episodes are censored this way (South Park Studios offers the show for streaming in India without censorship on its website). The website What’s New on Netflix indicates that this episode was released in India on September 2019.
The censored episode lampoons the Washington Redskins, an American football team that recently changed its name to Washington Football Team following renewed outrage over its name, which was criticized for using an offensive slur referring to Native Americans. In one scene from the episode, which was aired in 2014, a character responds to calls to change the team’s logo by simply adding a drawing of male genitalia and breasts to the imagery. (Since the blurring did not do a good job of obscuring the drawing, we are not going to be providing a screenshot of the scene. But the featured image on this post is from moments before the drawing appeared on the episode.)
Netflix and censorship in India
Netflix’s censorship in India is not predictable. In 2017, the company put up a censored version of the film Angry Indian Goddesses in India, while releasing the uncensored festival cut everywhere else in the world where it put out the movie. After reports on that version came out, the company undid its censorship (as it did Sunday night with South Park). The director of the film Sexy Durga said in 2019 that he had heard that Netflix was not licensing his film fearing controversy.
In 2020, Netflix released the theatrically censored version of the film Mission Impossible: Fallout in India, choosing to avoid depicting the international version of Jammu & Kashmir’s borders, which are disputed by the Indian government (and unfamiliar to many Indians). The company globally scrubbed a map of India from the show Street Food: Asia for the same reason. But the company has (unlike Amazon) resisted organised campaigns from right wing groups to censor shows like A Suitable Boy and films like Krishna and his Leela.
Netflix declined to comment on the newly notified Intermediary Rules, which require streaming services to submit to a three-tier complaints redressal process, something that could lead to pre-emptive censorship and a chilling of creative freedom.
Update (1:25pm): Added Netflix’s explanation.